For starters, I am not against the newly implemented second Wild Card slot for the 2012 season. However, I refuse to acknowledge the one game Wild Card contest as a true playoff game. With that I get off my soap box, and if you double as both a Cubs fan and a baseball fan, you are most likely aware that the hated Cardinals and the AL East Orioles won their respective Wild Card contests.
With St Louis and Baltimore both earning the honor to participate in the MLB playoffs “proper”, as British football fans like to say, the NLDS and ALDS brackets are now set. The AL West champion Athletics will pair up with the Detroit Tigers, whom most Cubs fans are thanking for keeping the crosstown White Sox out of the playoffs. NL Central division rival Cincinnati take on the NL West champ San Francisco. That leaves the Washington Nationals to match up with the Cardinals and the Orioles have the honor of matching up with AL East division rivals New York. This all AL East match up is a first for the Division Series since the inclusion of the first Wild Card team, as the previous playoff format did not force the Wild Card winner to play their respective division winner.
With our beloved Cubs unable to earn a playoff berth, who should Cubs fans root for as they get their final stretch of baseball fix before the winter?
You can immediately throw the Cardinals off of the list. Need I say more?
While we are at it, let us cross off division foe Cincinnati as well. While we may not dislike the Reds more than we hate St Louis, there is no need to cheer on a fellow NL Central team to ultimate success. Unlike the power conferences in college football and basketball, there is no room for the NL Central division pride angle to justify rooting for a division rival in the playoffs. If that is not enough for you, I should remind Cubs fans that first baseman Joey Votto and broadcaster Marty Brennaman have individually crapped on the North Siders fan base in recent years.
From the National League side that leaves the Nationals and the Giants. Despite San Francisco recently winning it all in 2010, it would actually not be that bad to see them do it again this fall. The angle here would be that Alfonso Soriano would be left second guessing all winter that he could have been on a World Series winning team, one of the standards he set for the Cubs front office as the team tried to deal him in July and August. Another Giants championship would not necessarily loosen up Soriano’s short list of teams he would allow a trade to, but the missed opportunity would be a fun jab at Soriano for Cubs fans. Oh the irony. The reason not to root for the team by the Bay? Ryan Theriot is on the roster. The former Cub’s comment of being “on the right side of the rivalry” when he joined St Louis last year still rubs me the wrong way. While the fact that his presence on two playoff teams in two years points to the scrappy infielder’s ability to do something right, his attempt to swing for the fences more and try to be a player he is not in his final season as a Cub also leaves no desire to root him on to his second ring.
The last man standing from the NL is the Nationals in this process of elimination exercise. While the NL East winner is not quite considered an underdog, there is always the angle of rooting for the fresh face in the playoffs. Washington certainly fits that description, especially compared to the other three NL clubs in the field. The Nationals roster also features three ex Cubs, highlighted by former Wrigley fan favorite Mark DeRosa.
On the American League side of the bracket, it should be easy for Cubs fans to remove the Yankees as a candidate. There is not much of a direct reason to root against the Bronx Bombers as there was for the Cardinals, unless you still hold a grudge against the Yankees for defeating the Cubs in the 1938 and 1932 World Series contests. But the Yanks and their 27 titles are always the team to hate because of their successes, and there is no reason to change that for the 2012 go around.
As for the Tigers, again there is gratitude for keeping the city rival White Sox out of this year’s edition of the playoffs, saving Cubs fans from having to hear trash talk from family and friends regarding a playoff bound South Side team. 100 plus losses for the season is fodder enough. But the giving of thanks ends here now that the Tigers are in, despite November and Thanksgiving just a little over a month away. Detroit, you are on your own. There will be no further support from Cubs fans as the Chicago Detroit rivalry extends to the NHL and NBA. For Chicago sports fans all I have to mention are “Redwings” and the Pistons “Bad Boys.” Enough said.
The Orioles, like their neighbors the Nationals, have the new face argument going for them as well, making their first playoff appearance since 1997. The Cal Ripken, Jr. era was the peak of the “Oriole Way” philosophy, and after a decade of down times, Baltimore returns to the playoffs highlighted by home grown players Matt Wieters and Jim Johnson.
Along with the “Moneyball” Athletics, both DC teams represent hope and living proof for both Cubs fans and young players to hold onto. These three ball clubs have shown in 2012 that you do not need to spend like the Yankees or Dodgers to win, and the make up of their rosters is the road map that President Theo Epstein will be using as a guide to bring long term success for our Cubs.
So there you have it. If you needed a guide to find a surrogate team to root for this fall while waiting for the Cubs chance to come around in the near future, it is go Nationals, go Orioles, and go Athletics this fall.
Topics: 2012, ALDS, Alfonso Soriano, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, NLDS, Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Theo Epstein, Washington Nationals, Wild Card